Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism
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private pursuits, and rewarded economic self-interest also sustain political liberty, social harmony, and the public good? Some doubted that it could. In An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), for example, the Scottish philosopher Adam Ferguson described civil society as having progressively evolved from a “rude” to more “polished” stages of development. Like his contemporary Adam Smith, Ferguson believed that individuals have an innate moral sense that civil society helps to cultivate.
society. Tocqueville believed that the Burkean conservative impulse was futile because equality was an inexorable tide and that civil society could be reconstituted in a free society as long as that society controlled the tendencies toward individualism, on one side, and the expansion of the state, on the other. Other nineteenth-century theorists, notably Hegel and Marx, conceived of civil society as resting entirely on self-interest. Marx wrote that the only bonds holding men together in civil
policies. Yet the tenets of classical liberalism often pointed in contrary directions. For example, the principle of freedom of association supported the right of workers to form unions, while the belief in free competition suggested that any combination in restraint of trade, even by workers, was illegitimate. In the face of such questions, two lines of thought emerged from liberalism’s classical beginnings. On the one side was the liberalism of laissez-faire, increasingly embraced by political
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The tension in classical liberalism between the language of universal rights and entrenched practices of political exclusion was resolved, as a matter of principle, in favor of democracy: an equal right to freedom came to include political liberty. In economic and social policy, liberals embraced stronger rights for labor and new forms of government intervention to achieve prosperity, control private corporate power, and protect individual dignity and
those who do business with one another cannot or will not trust the courts to resolve their disputes, they may call upon thugs to collect what they think they are due, and the rule of law gives way to the rule of force. And if citizens have no confidence in the effective ability of political leadership to address their problems, they will see no point to participating in politics even when they have the formal right to do so. Weak states are not a basis of liberty or democracy—they make it